From the Archives: Cobalt Connects explores new way to create 'vibrant communities'

August 28, 2014

1003387 10152179258777247 666784095 n


Jul 03, 2013

Cobalt Connects explores new way to create 'vibrant communities'

Hamilton Spectator

By Rachael Williams

Cobalt Connects is combining science, psychology and culture to create an interactive tool designed to measure "vibrant communities".

The not-for-profit organization has received $68,750 from Ontario's Creative Communities Prosperity Fund to use cultural resources to generate opportunities for economic growth. Cobalt Connects is the only Hamilton-based organization to receive this grant funding from the province.

Cobalt Connects plans to use the grant to analyze eight Hamilton neighbourhoods as part of its "Expressing Vibrancy" campaign- James Street North, Locke Street South, Downtown Dundas, Concession Street, Barton Village, Waterdown, Westdale Village, and Ottawa Street.

"We are hoping that from this study, we can create an interactive tool that will be used by anyone from small business owners, academics, and other municipalities to publicly discuss how to make a community more vibrant," says Karen Reiner, Project Manager for Expressing Vibrancy.

According to Reiner, Cobalt Connects plans to create a website that will house the information gathered from its research. It will include a detailed report on the company's findings as well as images, videos, and blog posts.

In addition, it will include a downloadable tool, which will help small business owners determine what areas in Hamilton to set up shop.

"It's important for a storeowner to know the community they are planning on moving into when they start up a business. What's going on in that area? It is worth it to open up a tailor here? A gallery? It's a great thing to try and measure for the city," says Reiner.

The website and interactive tool has not been predetermined. Rather, the organization wants to look at the data first and then determine what the technology is going to look like.

Assessing the practicality and beautification of Hamilton's city streets has become widely popular. It shares a common vision with the idea of Complete Streets, which seeks to improve city spaces and make it more amenable to pedestrians as well as businesses.

Cobalt Connects is going a step further - using resources at McMaster University to add a psychological dimension to the research.

"We're going to be using a live lab to judge people's reactions to Hamilton's city streets. About 100 people are going to be hooked up and we are going to expose them to sounds, pictures, and videos to see how people react to certain things using biometrics," says Reiner.

The live lab is run by Laurel Trainer, the Founding Director for McMaster's Institute for Music and the Mind. Set to open in the fall, the lab will use the research gathered from Cobalt Connects to gauge popular reaction to things like traffic in Waterdown and graffiti on Locke Street.

"It's the McMaster element that really sets this project apart," says Reiner. "We are mixing sciences and the arts in a really unique and productive way."

In order to acquire the information, Cobalt Connects will be using a mobile research lab similar to a Google car. Developed by McMaster University's Jim Dunn, a partner in Expressing Vibrancy, the car will be equipped with an urban video recording system, which will capture 360-degree video content.

There will also be approximately 150 volunteers placed in the designated areas to conduct research on foot.

"We're going to drop people in the middle of certain streets and ask that they open their eyes to determine what makes the street vibrant," she says.

The project was spearheaded by Jeremy Freiburger, Chief Operating Officer of Cobalt Connects.

"Everyone seems to understand that this is a desirable goal for communities - that this is a factor which enhances our experiences of living, working and spending time in a particular area - but there's little common understanding about how to determine and measure those factors," says Freiburger.

Cobalt Connects will be working with the local Business Improvement Areas to assess the aforementioned neighbourhoods, as well as the City of Hamilton. The hope is that the assessment will become part of the city's Cultural Plan.

The end date for the project is scheduled for April 1, 2014. The forecasted budget is $120,500. Cobalt Connects is in the process of seeking the remaining $50,000 from other sources, including the Ontario Trillium Foundation.

The Creative Communities Prosperity Fund was established in 2009 by the Ministry of Tourism and Culture. It has worked with 125 municipalities and First Nations communities across Ontario on similar projects.


No comments have been posted yet.

Add a Comment

Your Comment:

Your Name:

Your Email Address: (Won't be published)

Your Website: (If you've got one)